I like to think I’m pretty economical, that I can stretch a dollar. Todd and I live intentionally sparkle-free lives; we drive old cars, eat at home most of the time, he packs his lunch for work, I’m a regular Pennysaver and Craigslist participant, the kid and I seek out free fun at the library, take walks in the parks, etc. You get the idea. We try to live simply and inexpensively. Part of this is because we must, but truth be told, part of it is because we genuinely enjoy finding a bargain.
My favorite places to seek those bargains happen to be second-hand shops and sales. I have a local Goodwill that I frequent, we hit the church rummage sales sometimes, and there’s nothing better than a neighborhood garage sale on a warm Saturday morning. Sometimes I drag Marcus on these little forays; he’s quite familiar with the regular shopping spots. (He actually asked me today if I got my teeth at Goodwill—no kidding. Could I fabricate such an odd quote? You know it must be true.) I wouldn’t say that I pride myself on finding some of my favorite things in the midst of other people’s discarded goods, but I also wouldn’t say I’m ashamed of it. (Sometimes I think that the real shame belongs to people who spend ridiculous amounts of money on this stuff in the first place.) I do enjoy the thrill of the hunt, the unlikely Ralph Lauren skirt that’s in mint condition and cost me $3, or the Banana Republic sweater I found for $2… It brings me great satisfaction to step out in a name-brand outfit that didn’t even cost me a tenspot.
But pondering my second-hand hobby recently, I realized with some chagrin that I’m a parasite. All this time I’ve been thinking that I’m bucking the system, that I don’t need to live at the mercy of this season’s fashion, spend hundreds to update my wardrobe, invest thousands in furniture. The reality? I’m just as dependent on the whole goofy materialistic way of life as the initial purchasers of all these goods. If the person who first bought that $2 Ralph Lauren skirt had suddenly decided to save her money, where would I be? I couldn’t pick this stuff up cheaply if someone else hadn’t splurged on it in the first place.
So, I’m not really bucking the system. I’m just operating in a different system…but it’s not so very different, really. I spend less money, but I’m a cog in the greedy, fickle, buy-more/buy-new wheel just the same. I need those spendthrifts to help me maintain my lifestyle. My way of life requires that a consumer must consume; whether or not that consumer is me doesn’t really matter.
I'll be biting my tongue next time I'm tempted to ridicule someone's extravagance, because now I'll picture myself, a little leech, clinging to a bloated underbelly.